ASP Abridged: The Storytelling Human: Lithuanian Folk Tradition Today

We are pleased to present the latest in a new series of blog posts, ASP Abridged, in which authors give readers a short and sweet introduction to their latest book.

Here, Lina Būgienė introduces us to her new book, The Storytelling Human: Lithuanian Folk Tradition Today.

Tell us what The Storytelling Human is about in simple terms.

The Storytelling Human presents Lithuanian folklore as a vivid, changing, and developing tradition, which is very much alive even now. Opposing the hitherto prevailing approach to Lithuanian folklore as an ancient (thus, rather outdated and petrified) phenomenon largely created by nineteenth-century peasants, the book aims at introducing the living folklore tradition in its modern twenty-first century forms and transformations. It deals with a broad variety of materials: from archived manuscripts to audio-recorded life stories to internet lore. Lithuanian folklore stands out as both deeply rooted in the past and as flexible and adapting, capable to incorporate even the ultimately modern and technically advanced forms of expression and dissemination, while at the same time preserving its uniqueness and identity.

The book comprises such topics as history and identity, traditional worldview and past grievances still influencing the modern people’s actions, construction of the mental landscape, types and modes of storytelling, and the modern uses of folktales, proverbs, and anecdotes. Mental history in its narrative expression is the prevailing line tying together the eight chapters of the book. Together, they reveal an extremely dramatic panorama of the Lithuanian history in the twentieth century, including two world wars rolling over the country, the brief period of independence and the loss of it, the tragic period of the armed resistance and massive deportations to Siberia, the half-century long survival under brutal foreign oppression, and the ensuing restoration of independence. All these historical turbulences are still alive in the collective memory of the local people, especially those belonging to the elderly generation, and are manifested in their life stories, often revealing quite unconventional perspectives and judgements, as well as echoes of gory tragedies marking their personal lives. These historical shifts left their imprints in the traditional culture and popular mentality, resulting in various persistent expressions of collective trauma and such peculiar, genuinely Lithuanian national phenomena as numerous “pilgrimages” to Siberia in the 1990s with imperative aim of collecting the buried remains of the dead deportees and bringing them back to their native land. Although in some aspects strikingly unique, generally Lithuanian folklore is a good subject of study for everyone interested in the post-Soviet East European peoples, of which Lithuania is one.

How does The Storytelling Human make a unique contribution to the field?

This book pursues at least two goals. Firstly, it is a concise presentation of Lithuanian folklore studies in their current state. Lithuanian folkloristics has deep roots and rich scholarly legacy; however, due to the language barrier it is virtually inaccessible to the English reading audience. The editor and contributors of the book felt it was a good opportunity to introduce the Lithuanian folklore research to the international academia, highlighting our most intriguing findings and most important directions of research. Secondly, we tried to represent in all the chapters—as much as possible— the materials that we were working with, and which were equally unavailable otherwise due to the same language barrier. Therefore, all the chapters include lengthy quotations from and comprehensive descriptions of the actual folk narratives, life stories, riddles, proverbs, jokes, or internet posts. Thus, the reader finds in this book not only the scholarly analysis of the Lithuanian popular culture, but also glimpses of this culture itself and can appreciate its vibrant life and variety. Moreover, thanks to the efforts of the brilliant translator of the book Karla Gruodis, the text is a most readable and—hopefully—enjoyable scholarly contribution.

Lina Būgienė is a researcher in Lithuanian traditional and contemporary folk narratives, oral history, and folk belief. She is the author of over two dozen scholarly articles and co-author of two edited collections (in Lithuanian) on local identity and folk memory.